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Meet a College Finance Expert: Michelle Smoley

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Michelle Richardson

Written by Michelle Smoleyon July 14th, 2022

I began my financial aid counseling career working in a community bank. I provided families with paper FAFSAs and assisted them in completing the application in person. Through the years, the process, products and regulations in the financial aid industry may have changed, but the reward I feel when I help students and families has not. During my tenure at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, I had the opportunity to work with a very diverse group of students working towards all types of degrees from certificate programs to doctoral degrees. From there, I worked in student loan finance and became very passionate about financial literacy. I love educating families about various financial vehicles and assisting them in determining what is the best financial strategy to pay for college.
Learn More About Michelle
Welcome to our blog series: Meet a Finance Educator. This series will introduce students and parents to members of the Bright Horizons College Coach finance team. Drop in to see what we do to relax, where we went to college, the best financial advice we’ve received, and how we work with families to navigate the college finance process. Whether you’re looking to appeal a financial aid offer, maximize merit scholarship opportunities, or spend your assets strategically, our finance experts are here to help. Today we introduce Michelle Smoley. Where are you from, where have you lived, and where do you live now? I grew up on a crop and hog farm in Iowa. Currently, I live in Rochester, Minnesota. What do you do for fun or to relax? I enjoy spending time with my husband in northern Wisconsin where we unwind in nature. I also enjoy shopping and decorating, having brunch with my friends, going to the gym, golfing, and caring for my rescue dog, Comet. Do you do any volunteer work? If so, what, and are there certain causes that are close to your heart? Living in rural Iowa, I saw firsthand how important it is to eat, shop, and support businesses that drive the communities in which we live. I was active in economic development, the Chamber of Commerce, and various community organizations. I am now a dog volunteer at the Paws and Claws Pet Shelter in Rochester. Senior animals (especially if they have to be surrendered) tug at my heartstrings. -- Where did you go to college? I started at the University of Wisconsin-Stout and completed my degree in Finance and Banking at Buena Vista University. I obtained my MBA from Cardinal Stritch University and am attending Regis College (virtually) to obtain my Certification in Financial Planning. What would you like to go back and tell your high school self about the college application process? I would have job shadowed, worked, or volunteered to learn more about different fields. I would have also done my homework as it relates to student loans and looked at ways to cut the cost of education. -- Where did you work in financial aid? Any other relevant experience? I worked at a community bank in consumer finance. Part of my job was to work with customers on filling out the FAFSA. I loved it and was offered a financial aid position at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, where I worked with a wide range of students, from those pursuing doctorate degrees in physical therapy and nurse anesthesia, to certificates in phlebotomy. Later in my career, I returned to Mayo and was the operations manager/bursar and helped to develop a student business office for the Mayo School of Health and Sciences. How do you encourage families to incorporate financial fit into their college search? It depends on the family’s values and resources. While not all families need or want to incorporate financial fit into their college search, it is imperative that the family look at the return on investment for undergraduate degrees. I feel it is important for parents to be upfront and involved in this process. What aspect of the college finance and/or counseling process do you most enjoy working on? I truly enjoy strategically developing a paying-for-college plan. I call it “creative financing,” as it takes several components to put together an effective plan for an individual student and their family. I also enjoy financial wellness coaching and speaking with students and parents on how to become financially independent. What is the best financial advice you ever received? “If you live like a doctor when you are a student, you will live like a student when you are a doctor.” The other best financial advice I have ever received is to have an emergency fund. To learn more about Michelle, visit her bio.

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